The Sermon on the Mount (Part 11 of 11)
“Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Jesus wraps up Matthew chapter 5 with this powerful summary statement, “Be perfect as your Father is perfect.”
Leading up to this conclusion, Jesus lays out a series of “You have heard it said … but I say to you” directives. This is Jesus’ way of saying to the braggadocious law-keepers of His day, “You think you know the Law (‘You have heard it said’), check out what I am adding to it (‘But I say to you’). It is a much higher calling than you know.” And by the end of the chapter Jesus states it clearly; being right with God requires perfection. Wow!
(As an aside, I often hear this verse preached with “perfect” being explained as “mature”. The verse is somehow about us maturing into what God desires of us. DON’T WATER IT DOWN. Perfection is perfection. And perfection is required to be right with God.)
Jesus’ hearers would have been scratching their collective heads or just ignoring His words. They would have no idea what to do with perfect. That goal is impossible. How can any human be perfect in the sight of God?
Because we know the rest of the gospel story, we agree; perfection is impossible. And if the gospel story ended right here, we would be left in that conundrum. We would be lost in our imperfection, our sin. But praise be to God, Someone became perfection FOR US! Someone became the righteousness that surpasses the scribes and Pharisees FOR US! “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Corinthians 5:21).
And what about perfection? Just when you think perfection is impossible, look what the author of the book of Hebrews says, “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). You are sanctified, set apart and perfected, by the offering of Jesus. He did it all!
Does that mean we are perfect in our actions and attitudes? No, our behavior is energized by the new resurrection power of Christ living His life in us. But it also faces headwinds from our enemies of the world, the flesh, and the devil. But our new identity is perfect, righteous, and blameless. “Yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (Colossians 1:22).
In Matthew 5:48, Jesus is not only laying out a requirement that the law-keepers would have found impossible to live up to. But as with much of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is being prophetic in His announcement. Something that He has not explained or even alluded to yet is that He will become our perfection.
We and Jesus both know that we can never arrive at perfect on our own. We are only perfected by what Christ accomplished for us. We became perfect because God made us perfect by an act of His grace. Don’t cringe at the word “perfection”. You did not earn it and left to yourself you cannot keep it. We are delivered, made perfect, and kept by the beautiful grace of God.